Jim Antle and Daniel Larison have weighed in on the downsides of a Mitt Romney/Rand Paul ticket. But some of the problems that Jim points to cancel one another out: the fact that the VP traditionally does not have much power means he also bears very little responsibility, in the eyes of the base at least, for bad decisions the president might make in foreign or domestic policy. The general election is another story; there the VP is almost inevitably seen as the continuator of the administration. But it’s hard to imagine foreign-policy realists or Tea Partiers losing faith in Rand Paul on account of Mitt Romney’s decisions — and if they did, that would suggest they’re far too delicate to succeed in national politics.
The odds are pretty long that there would be another figure in 2016 or 2020 who would be a better match for the libertarian and non-interventionist vote; whatever taint serving in the administration might bring would have to be weighed by the Pauls’ natural base against what are likely to be much worse alternatives within the GOP.
The symbolic power shift of putting an anti-statist, non-interventionist Republican in the number 2 slot — in contrast to Cheney in the last GOP administration — would have real-world consequences. That would keep Romney more interested than he would otherwise be in placating constitutionalists, for fear of an embarrassing split within his administration.
And a public official never just occupies a single office: the staff that Rand would put into executive-branch positions (even those associated with the institutionally weak vice presidency) would gain experience that would make them powerful rivals to the neoconservatives in staffing future GOP administrations.
That, of course, is all the more reason why the pork hawks and neocons will pull every trick in the book if they think there’s a chance that Rand Paul will be Mitt’s pick. The presumptive nominee probably has his eyes in the opposite direction anyway, on the likes of Marco Rubio, the great hope of John McCain-Lindsey Graham set, or else he’s looking for a reassuring bland figure like Rob Portman. But if he did turn to Rand, the senator would have good grounds to accept.